NAPD, Society, and Public Defense
There are substantial benefits to society when public defense systems are properly funded. Public defenders who are competent, who have manageable workloads, and who have professional independence can ensure that the rights guaranteed by our Constitution are protected and can ensure that no one’s liberty is taken unless and until they are proven guilty. Public defenders can lower costly incarceration rates for counties and states by advocating for pretrial release and reduced sentences. Public defenders increase efficiencies and prevent expensive wrongful convictions. Adequately funding public defense is a matter of fundamental fairness. The government always comes to court well represented by counsel and not surprisingly, the government’s lawyers are regularly better funded and have better access to resources than the public defender
So, it is vitally important that we know how much we spend on public defense. Yet, when tasked to perform a survey of public defense funding, the Bureau of Justice Statistics lost its way. The report, which could be seen by many as a definitive statement on public defense funding, was quickly reviewed by many NAPD members. Because of the extraordinary connection among members, NAPD was able to quickly respond to the BJS report. NAPD responded directly to the report and joined with David Carroll of the Sixth Amendment Center.
Because of our members across the country we were able to communicate both with BJS and with officials at DOJ about the report and express our concerns. Our members were struck by several issues. First, the report addressed local spending in only a few states. Second, the report did not accurately reflect the range of services being provided in each state.
But, we did not use this moment to criticize BJS but we used it to introduce NAPD to those who do not know us, who do not know we are the only organization singularly devoted to indigent defense and made up of direct service providers. We offered to help, we offered to collaborate. We made sure that we let BJS know the funding of indigent defense is important, so important that we must get it right and that NAPD is the organization that has the members who can make that happen. This is our field of expertise, this our mission, we must own our problems and we must lead in solutions.